A 15-year partnership between UK coastal scientists and the international beach lifeguard community
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Drowning is a leading cause of unintentional fatalities around the world, yet on beaches is often preventable through public education campaigns and intervention activities from lifeguards. In 2006, the UK beach lifeguarding community approached the Coastal Processes Research Group (CPRG) at University of Plymouth, UK, with a need to better understand the key hazards on UK beaches and how to foresee and manage the associated risks. In some cases there simply was not sufficient scientifically-robust understanding of certain hazards (for example rip currents) available for lifeguard managers to make objective, data-driven decisions on how to manage them. This paper documents the resulting 15-year body of work, and reflects upon the education, outreach, and other research impacts that have been created, and lessons learned along the way. By furthering fundamental coastal processes understanding of such things as beach classification and rip current dynamics, as well as applying science to challenges such as predicting beach life-risk and times of peak bathing hazard, the ongoing collaboration between lifeguards and academics continues to inform beach safety management in a number of countries around the world. Initiating research with clear aims and objectives that are driven by, and developed in conjunction with, the end-user, as opposed to starting with outcomes prescribed to the end-user by academics, has been an important factor in the success (or failure) of these scientific ventures. CPRG's research activities in the field of beach safety has been scientifically rewarding and have achieved significant impacts. We attribute this to: (1) sustained level of high-quality research; (2) continued effort spent on building long-term relationships with end-users; (3) co-creation of dissemination material and tools; (4) acceptance that it takes time and effort to achieve research impact; and (5) critically evaluating and reflecting on the research impacts. Ultimately, the ongoing collaboration has contributed to a ‘continuing trend of decline in accidental fatalities around our coastlines’, and such collaborations in other parts of the world continue to play a vital role in reducing coastal drowning globally.
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